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Some Swiss Jews Shed Jewish Signs After Anti-semitic Incidents Create Fear

February 25, 2004
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Anti-Semitic incidents are causing fear among some Jews in Switzerland — and prompting the government to call for a conference on the issue.

A Jewish researcher who often wears a Star of David says she recently was attacked in a campus elevator by Arab students. In another incident, the researcher said, an Arab student refused to answer her questions in the classroom; instead, he brandished a small Palestinian flag.

The researcher, Veronique Elefant-Yanni of the University of Geneva, is just one of several Jews in Switzerland who recently have found themselves victims of bias acts.

Frank Luebke, director of the Center against Racism and Anti-Semitism in Zurich, says the situation is alarming.

“We have two notifications of anti-Semitic incidents a week. We do not have the same circumstances like in France. But if you realize that in France there are 600,000 Jews, and in Switzerland only 18,000, the situation here is even worse,” Luebke said.

Elefant-Yanni has worked at the university for 10 years. When she reported the incidents to her supervisor, he allegedly told her not to wear her Star of David in public.

The incidents followed a stepped-up campaign on campus of Palestinian propaganda. Pictures of tortured bodies accompanied by text saying the wounds were inflicted by Israeli soldiers were exhibited in a large hall in the university’s main building.

In addition, the movie “Jenin, Jenin” — a largely discredited documentary that alleged widespread massacres during Israel’s April 2002 invasion of the Jenin refugee camp — was shown on campus.

A spokeswoman for the university promised to launch an investigation.

Meanwhile, in the French-speaking city of Lausanne, Ilan Levy, a local Jewish student leader, says he was attacked and has decided not to wear his yarmulke in public.

An official with a Swiss government-appointed commission on racism said anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing, particularly in the French part of Switzerland, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a result, the Swiss government is organizing a forum on anti-Semitism in June, said Doris Angst Yilmaz, the secretary-general of the Swiss Agency against Racism and Discrimination. The commission was established in 1995 to monitor racism and anti-Semitism.

Recent research has shown that Swiss schools do little to educate students about Judaism, the Holocaust or tolerance of minorities. Jewish leaders have raised the issue with authorities, but with few results.

The last time Switzerland showed a notable increase in anti-Semitism was in 1997, when Swiss reacted to pressure from U.S. Jewish groups about Switzerland’s role vis-a-vis Jews during World War II.

A second wave started a few years later when the government said it would allow ritual slaughter, or shechitah, to be permitted in Switzerland. Animal protection groups launched a battle to fight the move, often employing anti-Semitic slogans.

The third wave began with the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2000.

As in other parts of Europe, Islamists are taking advantage of the overheated atmosphere to spread vicious propaganda against Israel and, often, against Jews.

In Swiss towns with Orthodox communities, where community members are visibly Jewish, these problems are not new.

“As a standing rule, we only go out in groups,” said a woman who would identify himself only as Devorah.

She noted that the murder of a Israeli rabbi in Zurich two years ago was never solved — and that police have closed the case.

Another Jewish researcher and journalist who has asked to remain anonymous recently has written the authorities out of fear of anti-Semitism.

The situation “makes me think if the upcoming generation of our family can possibly attend Geneva’s University or walk safely in Geneva’s streets, since it is obvious we would be pursued with racism for being Jewish as a Swiss citizen. This is very disturbing to me,” the woman wrote.

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